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Campaign Trail a Byway in McCain Family Journey

Politics: Senator from Arizona says his book wasn't written for his campaign. But it has turned into a powerful tool in support of his effort.

January 13, 2000|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MILFORD, N.H. — It is not as if John McCain is hawking his book. No sir, no way. No chance would he begin an early-morning town meeting here Wednesday--and two the day before and who knows how many more on this 26th campaign swing through the Granite State--by reminding his audience that "Faith of Our Fathers" has spent four months on national bestseller lists, or that it's available from Amazon.com.

"Twenty-four ninety-five," the senator and Republican presidential aspirant said, sounding like a cross between Johnny Carson and someone from the Shopping Channel. "And I sure am happy to sign it."

With its cover picture of McCain as a dashing 25-year-old fighter pilot, the book has turned into an important campaign tool. To the occasional consternation of his schedulers, McCain lingers at each town meeting until every copy of "Faith of Our Fathers" bears his signature and a personal message.

But McCain insists that writing the book had nothing to do with running for president. Rather, connecting his own experiences as a Navy pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam with the stories of his father and grandfather, both military heroes, turned into a personal journal of illumination, "the story of three generations of flawed Americans who found redemption in serving their country's cause."

McCain is hardly the first presidential candidate to turn author. Among the current crop alone, former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey has recently published "Values of the Game," and Texas Gov. George W. Bush came out with "A Fresh Start for America: Policy Addresses of George W. Bush." Though several years old, Vice President Al Gore's "Earth in the Balance"--also a bestseller--is considered a seminal tome on government policy and the environment.

It was New York literary agent Flip Brophy who suggested that McCain weave together a multi-enerational tale of military service. The senator from Arizona had turned down other offers to write about his five years in the prison known none too fondly as the Hanoi Hilton.

But "I couldn't stand just to write about me. That never interested me at all," McCain said Wednesday as his campaign bus chugged through the wintry woods of New Hampshire. "It was the connection between the three generations that intrigued me."

Besides, he continued, "in some ways it was easier to write about them than to write about myself. I learned a lot about them. I never knew--can you believe this?--I never knew that my grandfather had been ordered to be relieved of his command."

The senator's grandfather, John McCain Sr., was an admiral in the Pacific theater during World War II. John McCain Jr. also became an admiral in the Second World War. Their legendary military records made the third John McCain a prize catch as a prisoner of war when he was shot down over North Vietnam.

Often attired in military regalia, dozens of servicemen are usually among those clutching copies of "Faith of Our Fathers" at McCain's town meetings in New Hampshire.

"I'll have these World War II servicemen come up to me. They tell me that they knew my grandfather or my father, and then they tell me stories about them," McCain said. Vietnam veterans, he said, "of course consider me their brother."

Some Vietnam veterans apologize to McCain for not rescuing him. "They'll say, I was down too far, or I would have been there. They always tell me where they were."

Retired Air Force officer Tom Muccino said he never knew McCain during his own two tours of Vietnam. The book, he said, "helps to define this man. I can't think of anything that was more of a crucible for this man than the time in the Hanoi Hilton."

With no small pride, Muccino displayed his fresh inscription from the left-handed senator: "To Tom--Thank you for serving our nation. John McCain."

McCain and his Senate staffer, Mark Salter, split a $500,000 advance for "Faith of Our Fathers." McCain donated his half to a family foundation that funds charities, mainly in Arizona. He has yet to see a royalty check but said that, if he does, his wife Cindy is urging him to set some money aside for the college education of their four children.

McCain also sold the movie rights for "Faith of Our Fathers." He did not disclose how much producer Barry Diller paid for the book but said that casting for the movie is a lively topic in the McCain household.

Who will play the dashing young fighter pilot?

"I want Tom Cruise," the senator said. "My kids are voting for Danny DeVito."

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